Since June, a 23-member panel held eight meetings in its quest to determine the financial future of roads and bridges in Missouri.
The 21st Century Transportation System Task Force is charged with assessing the state road system and determining the funding source and level needed to sustain it.
Heading into the upcoming legislative session, the group is presenting recommendations laid out in a 60-page draft that was pieced together in December.
Mike Right, Vice President Public Affairs for AAA Missouri, says he’s been on the job for close 50 years. He attended all but of the task force’s hearings this year, and was impressed with the panel’s performance.
“I think that the citizens of Missouri should be very pleased that they had a group of primarily legislators, and legislative leaders, take a look at a very serious issue that the state has been facing for some time, and come up with some recommendations, that hopefully, are doable,” said Right.
10 of the task force members are state lawmakers, with some taking more of an interest in the issue of transportation than others.
The group is chaired by Republican State Representative Kevin Corlew of Kansas City, who oversaw all of the meetings. He sponsored legislation in the 2017 session to create the task force.
Chief among its recommendations is an increase to both the gasoline and diesel motor fuel tax. Currently, both rates are 17 cents per gallon which are among the lowest in the country, and less than all of Missouri’s surrounding states except Oklahoma.
The task force is suggesting a 10-cent increase in the gas tax and a 12-cent boost to the diesel tax.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has calculated that the average Missouri driver pays about $30 per month in state and federal transportation taxes and fees. MoDOT predicts motorists would pay an additional $5 per month under the proposal.
The larger increase proposed for diesel could reflect a general agreement among members of the task force and the trucking industry that semi tracker-trailers are responsible for a major portion of the wear and tear on the state’s roadways.
Tom Crawford, President and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association, told Missourinet that his membership favors a fuel tax hike of up to 15 cents a gallon. “It wasn’t universal. The higher you got, the less universal it was among my membership. But it was fairly well supported up to 15 cents.”
AAA Missouri’s Right says surveys conducted by his organization show widespread public support for raising fuel taxes.
“At least our polling would suggest that the motoring public is willing to increase their contributions to preserve the highway system,” Right said. “We polled our members not long ago, and the vast majority of them indicated that they were willing to increase their contributions to support the highway system.”
During several of the public meetings, task force member Bill Eigel, a Republican State Senator from Weldon Spring, was a vocal critic of a motor fuel tax increase. Interestingly, he’s since filed a tax measure for the legislative session that includes a six-cent hike to the gas tax.
But at the time, he claimed Missourians were already burdened with heavy taxation, and suggested the motor fuel tax will offer diminishing returns because of improved gas mileage and a movement toward electric vehicles.
There were numerous discussions during the task force meetings about adopting a “vehicle mileage tax” as a way to generate transportation funds with changing technology. Right contends implementing such a levy in 2018 would be cost prohibitive.
“Some states are currently experimenting with a vehicle mile tax of some different kinds of configurations, and it’s very expensive to do.”
Although he acknowledges a mileage tax will make sense in the future, Right contends Missouri has more immediate needs for its roadways.
“We’re probably two-decades away from that,” said Right. “And you just can’t sit around and say, ‘Well, you know, what you’re proposing ain’t going to be all that viable in the future.’ Well, I’ll tell you what, the future is next year when the potholes show up and you don’t have any money.”
Any increase to the motor fuel tax in Missouri would have to be approved by the legislature, and subsequently be passed by voters.
In addition to the gas tax, the transportation task force has formulated at least two additional recommendations – to enact a primary seat belt law, and to outlaw texting behind the wheel.
Currently, Missouri is one of only three states that allows any kind of texting while driving. Missouri has a partial ban on drivers 21 and under, while Arizona and Montana have no restrictions.
As far as buckling up, 34 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws. In states with secondary laws such as Missouri, law enforcement officers can issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another traffic infraction that can be cited.
AAA’s Right says human life is at risk when seat belts aren’t buckled. “Two out of every three people who die in a motor vehicle crash are unrestrained,” said Right. “You could probably cut 50% of those fatalities if you had everybody using a seat belt.”
44 cities and counties in Missouri currently enforce their own primary seat belt laws, including Kansas City and St. Louis County. The National Safety Council (NSC) ranks Missouri 50th in the nation in preventable accidents.
The Missouri 21st Century Transportation System Task Force will present its final recommendations Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the State Capitol building in Jefferson City.